Food cravings. Everyone has them occasionally, but what about controlling food cravings on a special diet?. For those of us who must live gluten (and other) free, food cravings can often go beyond the typical “I want chocolate now!” craving.
Research shows individuals who must eliminate foods from their diet due to a food allergy or intolerance often suffer frequent and persistent cravings for the foods they cannot have.
During holidays and on other special occasions where there are often tempting gluten-filled dishes, the urge to indulge can be overwhelming and cause some to give in, even though they know it is not best for their health.
But, that “just one bite” mentality is harmful to our health. Remember, even if there are no obvious outward symptoms, for someone with celiac disease, giving in to those cravings and cheating on our gluten-free diet can cause serious health issues.
To control food cravings, especially during food-filled special occasions, we need to understand battling food cravings isn’t merely a matter of having enough will power. Let’s take a look at what science tells us.
Facts about Food Cravings
- Can be physiological or emotional. Chemical imbalances, low fat intake, nutrient deficiencies or low blood sugar can lead to food cravings. Emotional events that we experience can also lead to cravings for certain foods.
- Tend to be very specific. For example, craving very salty foods or having an extreme craving for chocolate are not uncommon.
- Are different from hunger because of their specificity.
- Are prone to trigger binge-eating episodes. Some cravings lead to binges that cause individuals to consume more than 3000 calories of a certain food in one sitting!
- May elicit feelings of guilt and shame. Being unable to control cravings makes us feel out of control, weak and helpless.
- Can lead to weight gain and even to obesity. There is a direct relationship between cravings, binge eating and obesity.
Food cravings are associated with:
- A reduction in serotonin, a mood-boosting brain chemical (We’ve discussed it before in my article, 3Ways to Boost Your Mood with Food.)
- Reduced cognitive ability due to the focus on the food being craved.
- Vivid mental images or visualizations of specific foods.
- Feelings of hopelessness. Stress, anxiety and depression are related to cravings.
Of course, there are steps we can take to help fight cravings, even those strong cravings for gluten-filled favorites some of you have shared when we discussed this topic on the Facebook page.
If we combine the following helpful mind and body tips from research science with tried-and-true gluten-free recipes for dishes we love, we can banish food cravings and enjoy every holiday and special occasion that comes our way.
Strategies to Fight Food Cravings
Scientists from Flinders University in Australia take a mindful approach to fighting cravings. They suggest we:
- Use our brain power to focus on tasks we need to complete to turn our attention from cravings.
- Use mental imagery or visualization to “see” things besides the foods being craved. Perhaps it’s time to conjure up a vision of that tropical vacation, ski trip or European getaway!
- Watch something besides food. That’s right, those late-night commercials for cheeseburgers and brownies can enhance cravings.
- Eat regularly spaced meals to avoid extreme hunger, since hunger can enhance cravings.
- Nourish our bodies with “smart carbs”. That means eating foods like gluten-free whole grains, lean protein and fresh in-season fruits and veggies.
- Take care of our bodies all the time. That may sound like something we already do, but keep in mind, “taking care” doesn’t only mean eating a balanced diet. It also means getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly and keeping stress levels low.
- See our doctor if we have specific long-lasting cravings. For example, an ongoing and severe craving for sodium may signal a glandular problem.
- Make healthy foods convenient. Shop the produce aisle and fill the fridge with nutritious in-season fruits and veggies, keep lean proteins like hard boiled eggs and skinless turkey or chicken on hand, and pre-cook gluten free grains (and pseudo-grains) like rice (or quinoa) to round out meals.
- Turn to healthier, lower calorie versions of our favorite sweet treats. For example, when that inevitable chocolate craving hits, whip up a batch of my Raw Nut Free Fudge. It’s super-quick, so healthy and tastes great!
What are your top food cravings on your gluten-free diet and how do you handle them? Let me know in the comments below.